Medicine: Shocking the Heart

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By all appearances, the patient was dead on arrival, evidently from a heart attack. William Fruehling, 49, of St. Croix Falls, Wis. (pop. 1,500), a village handyman, had been helping to take a snow plow off a truck in zero weather just after lunch when he collapsed, half in and half out of the cab of his truck. A fellow worker had found him, wrestled the 200-lb. null onto the seat of the truck and drove it a quarter-mile to St. Croix Memorial Valley Hospital.

In the emergency room, Dr. Joseph Belshe made an instant decision: with out waiting even to wash his hands, he ripped open Fruehling's heavy clothes, made a 7-in. incision over the heart, and plunged his hand in to massage the stilled organ. A nurse administered oxygen. Drs. Fred Riegel and Dean Ericksen joined Belshe. All they got after 10 to 15 minutes of massage was a fluttering:—"ventricular fibrillation," usually the forewarning of a dying heart. The little country hospital had no fancy electrical defibrillator (TIME, May 7), but Dr. Riegel thought he knew just what to do.

He cut the outlet off an extension cord in the hospital emergency room, stripped the insulation off the ends of the wires and plugged the other end into the ordinary house current. Wearing rubber gloves, he touched the wires to opposite sides of Fruehling's heart. Twice the shock failed to work. Dr. Riegel then wrapped each wire around the base of a hypodermic needle and plunged the needles into the heart muscle—where they made a sizzling sound. Under this heroic stimulus, Fruehling's heart resumed its natural beat. This week he will be able to go home.